Tag Archives: happiness

Top 5 books of 2017

Unlike my top 5 blogs of 2017, this post was much easier to do. I set myself a goal of reading a book per week during 2017. It didn’t work out perfectly, but it averaged out at about that rate.

However, despite having almost fifty to choose from, it was really easy to pick the standout ones for me. 

Tools of Titans

I wrote a full review of Tools of Titans earlier in the year because it made such an immediate impact on me. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it certainly will help you ask better questions. If you take nothing else from it, the whole book is a fascinating insight into how top performers in every field think and behave. When it comes to their beliefs, it’s important to remember that correlation does not equal causation, but there are certainly some patterns worth taking note of.

All The President’s Men

Technically this was an audiobook, but that still counts. In the current political world, it was a fascinating insight into the time and effort required to maintain democracy. Being British, I didn’t really know much about Watergate, but reading this did give me hope that ultimately, as long as good people keep doing hard work, there will be a day of reckoning for all those politicians and fat cats who perpetuate lies to benefit their own agendas.

The Year of Living Danishly

I loved this book. It was funny, quirky and a staple in my general mission for 2017 to declutter and strip my life back to the basics of what I really want and need. Given that I love hot weather and the sun, I didn’t think there would be anything about the physical location of this book that would appeal to me. But it’s about more than just daily temperatures and hours of sunlight. It’s about what makes you happy even when conditions are extreme. Simplicity is a great way of working out what gives you joy when many of the distractions are gone.

Black Box Thinking

If you want to learn from your mistakes and actually benefit from them, then Black Box Thinking is a must read. Whether you’re self-employed, a cog in a big machine or at the forefront of any decision making, this book will make you see why you can’t always trust yourself. The examples involved are often extreme and terrifying. Can’t understand why people won’t back down when the facts are so clearly stacked against them? You will after reading this.

Turtles All The Way Down

Whilst the others were all non-fiction, Turtles All The Way Down had to go on the list. Technically a YA book, it’s also wonderful for adults. This book vividly brought to life how the crawling compulsion of OCD feels. It was beautifully written and deserving of all the accolades and positive reviews heaped upon it. It’s great to see John Green publishing again after the phenomenal and crippling success of The Fault In Our Stars.

So there you have it. The best books I discovered in 2017 and why. Feel free to tell me others I really should have read in the comments section below so I can add them to my 2018 list.

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Top 5 blogs of 2017 for creatives

I’ve got a few ‘top 5’ posts coming up to round off what has been an unusual and exciting year. One of the first subjects that came to mind was this one, the 5 blogs I have found most useful during 2017.

It was only as I started really thinking about what they were that I realised that actually, I’ve moved away from blogs as a resource. I’m not sure if this is a trend, or whether I’ve just had a change in circumstances. Instead of having favourite sites I return to time and time again, I’ve instead been more likely to search by subject and consume a variety of blogs I find. The chances of me returning to any specific site are slim.

Perhaps, unfortunately, it has something to do with how fake news (actual fake news, which is generally the polar opposite of what is being branded fake news) has got me second guessing everything. Instead of taking any one person or comapany’s view as truth anymore, I find myself always verifying sources. I suspect that 2018 will contain more of the same.

However, I did manage to find 5 blogs that I have returned to more than others. Unsurprisingly, these cover my main interests of writing, travel and how to stay productive and healthy.

 

The Creative Penn

Joanna Penn has quite the enterprise going now. There’s a lot of really useful information on the Creative Penn website and I find myself returning to it frequently. Bridging art and commerce, Joanna’s site is future thinking and always optimistic, no matter what craziness and uncertainty exists in the world. She’s making money from people wanting to be authors, but she’s up front about expecting money in exchange for valuable insights, rather than being a ‘get rich quick on kindle’ scammer.

Goins, Writer

Jeff Goins has made a career from writing about writing. When you look at his work about work it all sort of gets a bit meta, but there’s a lot of important takeaways included. The concept that actually, in today’s world we are moving away from a single-track career progression and into a varied career of diverse options, is something that has really resonated with me this year. As I look towards 2018 this site has been great at reminding me to keep my options open, embrace opportunities and ignore the imposter syndrome.

Chris The Freelancer

Admittedly I tend to watch Chris’s videos on YouTube more frequently than I visit his blog. He’s built quite the channel about working from a laptop while he travels the world. He was one of the first resources I came across while looking at the way the world is gradually turning towards a laptop, gig based economy. Unlike many digital nomad sources, he has a professional approach, steering away from the backpacker with a side-hustle content that forms much of the information out there.

Pick The Brain

The banners at the top of this site cover off all the things near and dear to my heart: motivation, productivity, health, self-improvement. It focuses on doing the things required to move you forward to a dream life, but isn’t all about the hustle. Productivity is great, but not as a way of doing even more so you can burn yourself out. Instead, a healthy momentum is the name of the game. Even when the information isn’t new to me, it always acts as a good reminder to stop and think.

Brain Pickings

Although it has a very similar title to the one above, it’s very different. With much longer pieces, it’s not full of snappy soundbites. There are no quick wins to take away here. Instead, the posts are more critical and philosophical. More academic, if you don’t mind me using that word. The insights are numerous, but you have to work for them. Honestly, in today’s world of short attention spans and instant gratification, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

NaNoWriMo Prep: 30 days of staying healthy

As a significant number of people are about to launch into the writing insanity of National Novel Writing Month, I thought I would do a post not on writing, but on health.

As someone who has been doing NaNoWriMo for a long time (over fifteen years!), I’ve learnt some hard lessons along the way. So I thought I’d wrap them up into a single post so you can learn from my mistakes rather than making them yourselves.

Preparation

 

The best way to have a comfortable and healthy month is to prepare for it. Take the time to plan your novel (if you’re a planner rather than a pantser) but also take the time to prepare your writing environment. Your wrists and neck are going to be under some strain during November, so make your set up as ergonomic as possible. If you’ve only ever written 300 words a day before, then don’t expect to write 3000 and not feel a twinge or two the following day.

Clear your calendar of other events if you can, so you don’t end up with too many competing priorities.

Diet

Writing can be an absorbing pastime. You get lost in the world you’re creating. It can be fun to get to know your characters. So much fun that you look up and it’s a lot later than you realised. Time to grab a coffee and a quick snack and keep going, right?

Wrong.

Eating a proper diet and avoiding quick and easy junk food will give you enough energy to keep going long term. Don’t make November the month of sugar highs and carb crashes. Simple, healthy meals can be planned for in advance so they don’t cut into you writing time.

Hydration

No, I don’t mean drinking endless pots of coffee. Much as I love the stuff, don’t chug it to get you through that all night writing session. Drink plenty of water and other uncaffeinated, sugar-free beverages to stay sufficiently hydrated. I’ve found this is especially important if you’re doing an early morning session as it clears the fog of sleepiness very effectively.

Sleep

Talking of sleep, make sure you get some. Finding the time to write 50,000 words means finding a lot more hours during your day. Sacrifice TV and Facebook time, not sleep. Tiredness will make the whole process of writing slower and begin a vicious cycle of struggling to hit your daily word count. Try not to deviate too much from your existing pattern and if you know that’s currently a terrible one, then don’t allow NaNo to make it worse.

Exercise and rest breaks

As well as sleep, make sure to build in some exercise time and rest breaks. Not only will your wrists appreciate it, but your eyes will too. There have also been several studies highlighting the dangers of prolonged sitting, so make sure you get up and walk around. Set a timer or alarm if you have to. It might not seem easy to stop mid-flow, but it’s better than sitting for an extended period and risking blood clots and heart attacks in later life (a bit dramatic, I know).

Mental health

Doing NaNo can be hard on your physical health, but it’s not a walk in the park for your mental health either. The pressure to finish (often self-inflicted) can lead to some serious burn out. This is often exacerbated if you haven’t done the things above to work on your physical well-being. Remember, at the end of the day, NaNoWriMo is meant to be a fun and inspiring writing experience. It’s not meant to be soul destroying. Don’t win the month, only to never want to write again.

If you start to feel upset, frustrated or unhappy, then step away from the computer. Take a break. You can come back tomorrow, the next day or not at all. It doesn’t matter. Life is too short to be made miserable by an internet competition where the only prize is to be able to say you’ve done it…

You’ve got 12 weeks to complete your 2017 goals

12 weeks? Is that all?

I know, 2017 has sped by in a bit of a blur. However, there are still 12 weeks left to make progress on those goals you’ve spent the majority of the year procrastinating on. The good news is, with a bit of planning and forethought, that’s plenty of time.

Learn to think in 12 week years

If you’ve not read The 12 Week Year by Brian P. Moran then go and read it now. You can also check out my 12 Week Year Book Review post if you want to know more.

Prioritise

Okay, so 12 weeks is plenty of time to get things done, but it’s not enough time to get everything done. Work out which goals will give you the biggest impact and leverage then discard the rest. If you’ve not done anything about them so far, they can probably wait another few months anyway.

Engage

Don’t do anything you don’t care about deep down. If you want to make 2017 your best year ever, then do the things that will give you satisfaction and a sense of pride. Obligation and guilt are not the motivators here.

Plan, plan, plan

I don’t care if you do it in an app or on paper, but you need to write down a plan. Between now and the end of the year, social and family obligations shoot through the roof, there are holidays and for many of us, lots of shopping. Don’t pretend this won’t zap your time and energy. Open the calendar and plan the work.

Get specific. Plan the tasks that get you to the goal, not just vague references that make you feel like you’ve written without really having to think about it.

Execute

The hardest part of all. Now you have to act on those tasks you’ve defined. Each day, make sure that you’re working towards the goal, rather than getting distracted by lesser tasks that feel like work, but don’t actually get you anywhere.

Finish strong

Although the end of the year is approaching at break neck speed, it really isn’t too late to make it a great year for your productivity. There may be the temptation to put everything off until the New Year, but if you do, then you’ll find reasons not to start then either. Take the first few, small steps and the rest will follow. Plan the work, work the plan.

Seasons – Planning Life Alongside Nature

For us in the northern hemisphere, there is no denying the change in the air. Summer is giving way to autumn (or fall, if you want to be all American about it). The kids are back at school. All the upcoming holidays now have an ‘end of year’ feel to them. For those in the southern hemisphere, the reverse is true. Spring is coming and summer will be here before you know it. Time to hit the beach and get outdoors.

It was whilst living in New Zealand that I realised for the first time how productivity and personal development have seasons of their own, often very much inline with nature. Perhaps it was because all my online inputs were largely presenting an experience that was the reverse of the one I was living through. What I did realise was that as the rains came (I was living in Christchurch, there was lots of rain), it became harder to stay motivated and geared up for new projects all the time.

Any productivity guru worth their salt will tell you that you don’t need to wait for the New Year to make a change. Or that every day is a fresh start. It’s all very true. I just think it becomes harder if you try to do it out of sync with the world around you.

Many people live online so much that it makes it easier, in a strange sort of way. When you never leave the house, it’s easy to forget what is going on outside. I know the temptation of the laptop as much as anyone else. Nevertheless, it can contribute to a feeling of burnout when there is no variation, just the non-stop hustle and grind of daily life.

Right now, I am taking a mini-break to plan the remainder of the year. I wanted to be somewhere different, somewhere much closer to nature, to remind myself of this idea. As the days get shorter, it will become harder to get out of bed each morning. The evenings will seem made for curling up under blankets with a good book, not hitting the gym or high intensity projects. I need to remember this so that I don’t fill my days with things I won’t achieve. I don’t like breaking promises to anyone, least of all myself.

So, over the next few weeks when you begin to see articles and blogs reminding you that ‘It’s not too late to win the year!’ and ‘make that final quarter count!’, remember that life is meant to have periods of recovery and renewal. If you’ve left it until nature begins to shut down, then it might be time to consider a different approach next year.

Of course, for those of you in the southern hemisphere, it’s time to get up and at ‘em.

How to create a successful morning routine

Why set up a morning routine?

These are a few benefits I’ve found from my own routine over the years.

For many years, a corporate job took most of my time and energy. I would come home from work and have nothing left to give for things that were important to me. I wanted to be a writer, but I never actually wrote anything. This all changed when I dedicated just an hour every morning to my writing. Having a morning routine allows you to dedicate time to the things that matter to you most.

Precious alone time. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, whether in real life, social media or any other online input. A successful morning routine, one that was clearly defined, gave me a definite course of action, so I always knew what to do next. That removed ‘check twitter’ from my list of options. That space gave me time to think about what was important and also sheltered me from negative bombardment from the moment I woke up.

There are many other benefits, but those two give the biggest returns for a happier and more fulfilling life.

So how do you set up a morning routine?

It’s easier than you think.

Firstly, ask yourself what you hope to achieve from doing this. Everyone will have different objectives. Is it to make time for your creative projects? Is it to make sure you get in a good workout each day? Or perhaps it is to read or work on personal development. What matters most to you will make up the core of the routine.

Secondly, decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Be realistic. If you want to do a thirty minute workout but have to go to the gym, then include the travel time and showering afterwards. No one will thank you if you run out of time for that. The amount of time required will impact on how early you need to get up in order to complete the routine before beginning your existing obligations.

Thirdly, don’t start too big. Habits take time to become routines and the more you add in, the more likely you are to become overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine started out with a simple, single task: write 1000 words before breakfast. Over time, that has developed into a multi-step routine, but I needed to get used to doing that single but significant task first.

Be in it for the long haul

So what does my routine look like now? It combines several elements that I have seen successful authors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs confirm as being instrumental for them.

1) Begin with a pint of water. I used to go straight to coffee, but never underestimate the power of rehydrating after 7 hours of sleeping.

2) Write 1000 words. That’s still my big goal after 6 years of doing this.

3) Morning Pages – adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. You’re really supposed to do them before anything else, but for me they have actually always been more effective after my half-asleep writing session. The last page always contains three things I am grateful for that morning.

4) 20 Pushups. Really not many, but it makes me feel like I’ve at least done something physical and makes me more likely to do other activity throughout the day.

5) Affirmations and visualisations. Yes, I still feel like an idiot sometimes saying these things out loud, but they do work. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so this gives me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone when I need to.

6) Goals review. Don’t work hard to climb that ladder just to discover it’s up against the wrong tree. Work out what you want and remind yourself every day to stay focused on what matters, rather than what simply feels urgent.

7) Calendar review. It doesn’t matter what grand goals you have for that day if your calendar says you have back-to-back meetings. Again, be realistic.

8) Task list review. By the time I’ve reviewed what matters (goals) and what’s immovable (calendar), it makes it much easier to delete, delegate or defer tasks on my list. What remains still needs to get done, but this way I don’t waste my energy on unnecessary tasks before I get to them.

The power of a morning routine means that these tasks take less time as you repeat them. The whole process above now takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. That’s from 6-8am at the latest. That gives me a whole hour to have breakfast, get showered and be at my desk by 9am.

I’ve already achieved things that matter to me and mentally prepared for my day by the point most people are just thinking about booting up the laptop.

None of this will work unless…

A meticulously planned morning routine with all the best intentions and activities will still fail unless you actively set yourself up for success the night before. Unless you have the luxury of being beholden to no-one, you’re going to have to sacrifice some morning sleep to get this done.

A successful morning routine means ensuring you go to bed early enough to get the quality sleep you need. If there are any objects/spaces that are essential to your routine, then these should be found or made clear the night before to remove as much friction as possible and ensure you can make every minute of your morning routine count.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to set up a morning routine and how to grow it into something that makes a huge difference in the level of success and satisfaction you get from your day. If you have any questions or thoughts then drop them in the comments section below, or you can get in touch with me by email at realist@sherrinicholds.com.

Books for Entrepreneurs: Essentialism

Greg McKeown’s infamous book, Essentialism, has been on my reading list for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I first heard about it, but those who mentioned it always spoke of its life changing effect.

When you read a lot of business and personal improvement books like I do, you get used to people waxing lyrical about how things will never be the same after adopting strategy x. This may turn out to be one of those rare occurrences where it happens to be true. The constant doing more, but achieving less. Never feeling satisfied or that the day was meaningful.

As I began reading, I was relieved to discover I already had quite a few essentialist habits. I discovered the underlying cause of friction I felt on many projects: my broadly essentialist approach versus the non-essentialist approach being taken.

This meant that in addition to completing the task itself, I had to work out the true intent and purpose of the project. Where some people are happy to just complete any task (usually just taking the easiest route to something approximating done), I have never accepted mediocre as the target to aim for. Instead, I would rather take longer to work out how to provide a valuable outcome.

But although I was embracing essentialism in many areas, in others I was getting woefully distracted. My personal life, especially, was in free-fall at the time of reading this book. In no small part this was due to the mental exhaustion that came with battling work tasks handed to me that were governed by non-essentialist principles.

So how has this book helped me? Largely by giving me the confidence not to accept a task without getting those in charge of the project to clarify their thinking about it first. Sometimes, the person handing out that task is me. As a freelancer or entrepreneur, understanding essentialism is vital for avoiding burnout.

It’s hard to ask difficult questions sometimes, but it gives me the boundaries to not only do good work, but also valuable work.

The best part of this is that I ultimately freed up valuable creative energy to expend into my personal life and projects. I developed a new infrastructure for 2017 that allowed me to be location independent and travel.It also gives me the framework to consider carefully my side projects and see which ones are ready to move from hobby to business and which ones simply need to be cut from my life, no matter how enjoyable they seem on the surface.

For the first time since reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done, I have experienced a fundamental shift in what I believe is achievable and what my life needs to look like to get there. The confidence comes through in the decision making process. Whilst success is never guaranteed, I am giving myself the best possible shot at living a meaningful life, rather than a purely busy and productive one.

With challenging economic and political times ahead, Essentialism is one of the books I would recommend for anyone who wants to make the most of future opportunities in the changing workforce.